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GEMx Elective Reflections – Exchange from Fundación Universitaria Juan N. Corpas (Colombia) to University of Tunis El Manar (Tunisia)

Filed under: GEMx Sponsored Events, GEMx Student Reflections

GEMx has had the pleasure of not only extending travel grants to students going on GEMx system elective exchanges but has been an active supporter of  student developed and led competitions and exchanges. We have aided CiCoM and IQMU, and more recently supported the Student Network Organization of The Network –TUFH to implement the 2017 pilot, GEMx-SNO-International Exchange Internship, which occurred in conjunction with the World Summit on Social Accountability Conference in Tunisia   

GEMx provided funds for Alejandro Avelino Bonilla of Juan N. Corpas University (Colombia)  and Vishnupriya Vijayalekshmi  of Kerala University of Health Sciences (India), two SNO member students, to cover their roundtrip airfare to Tunisia, accommodation fees and daily budgeted meal allowances while they undertook their internship experience at University of Tunis al Manar Faculty of Medicine. ECFMG and its GEMx program appreciated the opportunity to partner with SNO in this pilot and is honored  to share their experience with all of you here!

Post by Alejandro Avelino Bonilla, Medical Student at Universidad Juan N. Corpas (Colombia) who completed a GEMx Elective at University of Tunis El Manar (Tunisia)

Exchange experience

I had the incredible opportunity to do the international exchange internship in the department of infectious and communicable diseases in La Rabta Hospital.  From the  beginning,  due to  the  last minute changes, it was difficult to know the details of the internship, the communication with  the local organizer was almost null (which is understandable because he found himself busy working on the event). Despite these drawbacks, I couldn’t wait for it to begging, I was very excited because it was my first  international internship. I felt  somewhat anxious because I didn’t prepare  properly about  of the  pathologies  because the  epidemiology is really different in Tunisia compared with Colombia. I knew that I would  have to study a lot but I was born for challenges.

Alejandro and Vishnu sitting in a room
For this experience  I had the pleasure of being accompanied by Vishnu, a medical  student  from  India whom  I already knew  but  we forged  a very strong  friendship. The first  day the  head of the  service welcomed us, greeted  and congratulated us, then  explained  our duties and the day to day activities  and what  was expected  of  us. In the  morning we would attend  the  service meeting  where  the  new  patients  are presented  and people  from  other  departments ask for  advice on the  management of complicated patients. Then we took a brief  rest and then we review  the patients   assigned.  Vital  signs, general  physical  examination,  physical examination focused on the  disease and review  of paraclinics, just like any other intern. On Tuesday a general round was being held in the men’s hall, and on Thursdays through  the women’s  hall with the head of the service, together with  all the residents  and interns. The cases and its particular management were discussed and the necessary studies were requested.

Every day we had lunch with  someone  different, we made friends quickly and they took us to different places,mainly traditional food restaurants,  it   was  quite   a  culinary   experience.   Later  in  the afternoons there were classes or discussions of cases but they were done in French which  was a great  difficulty for us and eventually we stopped  attending. We used the  afternoons to study the pathologies  and to  know  little by little the  city.  The cases in the department were  extremely interesting and medium-high complexity,  so  that   each  day  was  more   interesting than   the previous  one, I highlight  the  case of an older  adult  patient who suffered left temporal lobe necrosis secondary to a herpes type  2 infection And HIV.

Students and Faculty Discussing Medicine Around a Table
Students  were  key to  us, many  times  interns  and residents  had too much work, so they took care of us especially to translate  and help us to examine patients  and understand cases. On a couple  of occasions in the  afternoons we  accompanied the residents  and students  in external  consultation, it was interesting  to see how the people who attended the  consultation were  also very open to foreigners. Finally in the last days of the rotation the intensity of the questions increased to evaluate our academic performance, in  some points it became difficult to answer  questions  in English (while  speaking  French or Arabic  among  them) having to think some things in Spanish and answer. In English, was a very beneficial experience  for my mental  and learning  process. Vishnu left first that I,  as  an  inmate   in  her  hospital   were expected many responsibilities and commitments and it was hard to see her leave.

Skull X-Rays
Being alone, my new friends took care of me and every day I stayed in the house of one of them, during these days I had the opportunity to live the day to day life of a native, clear medical student, and this forged an even stronger  bond with my friends  and with the country. All the time they were waiting for me, if I wanted  something, if I had already  gone  to  all  the  places, etc  …  I felt  like  in  my  country, surrounded by my best friends. The last day was difficult to say goodbye to the members  of the service, in fact it was easier for me to leave a letter, than to tell them  what  I felt  because I can be too emotional. After  saying goodbye  to each of my friends  and acquaintances, I went home to prepare the suitcase and left Tunisia but I carry in my heart a part of this country, its people and its food.

It was one of the  most  wonderful experiences  I have had and I have to  thank  GEMx infinitely for  this opportunity.

 

Lessons learned

Photo of Students at University of Tunis
From all this experience, I can say with conviction that the most important thing I learned in Tunisia was that no matter the country, medical education and clinical practice have great similarities, they face similar difficulties and the medical team must come up with  plans so they can provide  the best service with the means available. I remember that in my motivational letter  to apply mentioned the fact of knowing the health system of other countries  to complement my training and my projection to one day be health minister, and now after this internship I must say that this goal is stronger than ever. My  passion and my future is public  health  and this  experience  has strengthened me and motivated me to continue working hard and so, someday, to be able to generate a big impact  on the health of communities.

Selfie of Alejandro and Vishnu with Tunisian Students
Finally I learned that the love for medicine, the devotion to patients  is the same in Colombia, India or Tunisia. Physicians and other members  of the health team are willing to make large sacrifices for the benefit  of patients  and communities. It is the beauty of this art.

Potential research project ideas

The idea of carrying  out  a study  on antimicrobial resistance arose, in which  the characteristics  of each country  are profiled and evidenced and then a global comparison is made. This project will be developed  from SNO and I will supervise this personally  as President of this organization.

Alejandro and Vishnu on University of Tunis Campus
I want to thank GEMx infinitely for  this opportunity, it has strengthened and motivated me psychologically and academically.  My motivation to look  for my future could not be clearer and stronger.

Thank you.

Alejandro with a Hawk on His Shoulder

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